Moth people

With so little to blog about as far as birds are concerned, and with my botanical hat seemingly put away for the rest of the year, it falls upon the lepidoptera to once more provide the subject matter for this latest post. Last time up it was all about my early mothing memories, but what I neglected to mention was the part that people played in nurturing and encouraging my interest. This will put that right.

First up is Sean Clancy. As my last post mentioned, it was his actinic trap set up in the moat at Dungeness that was the spark that set alight my early interest in moths. Sean was a little younger than me, and was somebody that I had first met birdwatching at Beddington SF (when he was just 13 years old) in the company of a school-teacher of his, one Barry Banson (of more later). Sean's regular appearances at Dungeness often coincided with mine, and we soon became good friends, taking birding trips together. I knew of his interest in moths, and although I had had my own moments with them, they were just that - moments. As I became a bit more interested, it was Sean who I looked to for advice, help and identification.

In 1981, at a Dungeness Bird Observatory committee meeting, I mentioned my new found interest in moths to Bob Scott (ex-Dungeness warden). I was keen on finding out what species had been recorded there and he suggested that I contact Barry Goater, who had, in the past, been a regular visitor to the point in pursuit of moths. Furnished with his address I wrote to him, hoping that he might be able to point me in the right direction as to where to find any published information. What I did not expect was a most speedy, and full, reply. In meticulous handwriting, and spanning a number of pages, Barry had given me a list of species that he had recorded, with dates and numbers. He urged me to keep recording and I found his response not only informative but ever so touching - he really had gone out of his way to help someone who was a total stranger to him. As it happened, my interest in moths did not yet fully bloom.

Sometime during 1987-88 the next 'moth person' appeared, and that was Barry Banson. This south-London schoolmaster, who I had known from my early Beddington days, had purchased a bungalow on the Kent coast close to Dungeness. He started to run an MV in his garden which, I think it is fair to say, started to produce migrant moth records that were the envy of the country. My times at DBO would not be complete without a visit to Barry's to see his latest captures. He had already nurtured my interest (and modest skills) botanically, and now he set about educating me in the ways of lepidoptera. 

At about the same time I would meet up with three Surrey-based birder's once a fortnight for a beer - Derek Coleman, Graham Geen and Ian Dodd. We also had more than a passing interest in moths. By now I (and my other fellow beer drinkers) had purchased actinic traps, so our sessions would be enlivened by pots of moths being passed around for our education and titillation. Derek then upgraded to an MV - and that changed everything. I would often join him out in the field, lugging generators, ever expanding number of MV traps, electrics, egg boxes, sheets, etc, etc. We would regularly visit Ashtead Common (especially for Heart Moth), Banstead Downs, Dawcombe, White Downs and especially Oaken Wood. We would return home in the early hours full of mothing memories. We were often joined by Graham Collins, the county moth recorder, another who gave freely of his time and expertise.

Dungeness continued to have a strong moth influence on me. DBO warden David Walker became an avid recorder, the observatory sometimes running two MV's. He was generous in sharing his prize captures, sometimes phoning me at home to let me know about them. I actually drove the 90-miles from Banstead to see two of his most attractive successes - Death's-head Hawk-moth and Spurge Hawk-moth. I declined to make the journey for one of his rarest, a Tree-lichen Beauty. Just as well that I saved on time and petrol for that particular moth as I now trap them regularly in the garden (pictured above). Others also ran traps nearby and would share in their results - Owen Leyshon, Dorothy Beck and Keith Redshaw to name just three. I was also lucky enough to meet some of the titans of the mothing world - Bernard Skinner, John Langmaid and Jim Porter - each of them to a man approachable, friendly, helpful and full of encouragement.

I'm so grateful to each and every one of the people mentioned in this post. There are others that have also played their part in my mothing time, and even though they may have not been mentioned by name they are certainly not forgotten.


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